The 6 Brands That Creatives Most (And Least) Want To Work With And What You Can Learn From Them

There are few surprises among the six brands that creative agency types most want to work with. But how do those brands create the kind of culture that makes them consistent talent magnets? Gary Stolkin, head of talent recruitment and consulting company, The Talent Business, discusses the traits of idea-first brands.

It’s hardly surprising that the world’s most senior communications agency talent seek to work with clients who value ideas and who work collaboratively. According to our inaugural Global Brand Owner Reputation Survey, 99% of the 397 agency leaders from around the world want, above all else, to work with clients who value ideas. So, if this is the key motivator for the world’s top agency talent, why do so many brand owners appear to be indifferent about their reputation when it comes to valuing (or not valuing) ideas and being ideas-driven?

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the top six brand owners who sit head and shoulders above the rest in our global ‘desirability’ rankings; Nike, Apple, Google, Adidas, Volkswagen and Coca-Cola. (For reference, the lowest performing brands were: L’Oreal, GlaxoSmithKline, Reckitt Benckiser, Colgate, Johnson & Johnson and SC Johnson.) Firstly, there is a desire at the most senior level within these corporations to create an environment in which agency partnerships will thrive. Innovation and creativity run through their DNA and it’s reflected within their products and their marketing communications output. Crucially, they join the dots between an internal culture of product innovation, and an ideas driven, innovative approach to brand communication. These brand owners are more likely to embrace and inspire agency talent and, what’s more, they tend to have more open and transparent relationships with their agency partners. As a result, there tends to be a more honest dialogue about the opportunity and expectation on both sides. With my pitch consultant’s hat on, these are so often the vows (transparency, mutual respect, partnership) that brand owners take during a pitch process—but are soon forgotten when procurement steps in and the focus becomes FTE’s, blend rates and scope of work.

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The "Brand Owner Desirability" list; i.e. which brands are most, and least, wanted as partners

It all boils down to one’s philosophy on the role of the brand: If you believe in the power of brands—meaning the commercial value of lasting relationships with consumers that brands can create—then shouldn’t your marketers be engaged in the relentless pursuit of ideas that will elevate their brands? This is what agencies do best when they’re allowed to, and this is what motivates agency talent above all else.
Some marketers will argue that sophisticated marketing in sophisticated markets has resulted in consumers becoming uncompromisingly cynical—and that the old theories on brands and ideas are no longer valid. However, quite the opposite is true; in this scenario, ideas become even more important if your goal is to elevate your brand. While the touchpoints that drive lasting relationships with consumers might have changed over the years, the power of brands and the value of ideas remain the same.

So what should brand owners do if they care about their reputation in the creative community and seek to attract the world’s best talent to work on their brands? Leadership is the key determinant of business success. The vision of the leader will define the corporate philosophy on brands, the value placed on ideas (throughout the organization) and the creation of an environment that encourages and fosters ideation.
We spend a lot of time talking to CMOs around the world—both as recruiters, but also as pitch consultants advising clients on agency partners—and we experience first-hand the gulf between CMOs who view the output of their agency partners as something that will potentially make them famous, and those who don’t expect to be judged by their agencies’ output. The latter may have a compelling, short-term business performance story—and if the average tenure of a CMO is under two years, it’s hardly surprising that for some, short-term business performance is all that matters—however, CMOs should begin to think about their long-term marketing communications output as something that impacts on their professional reputation.

"Start the way you mean to finish" is not a bad philosophy. Get things right at the beginning of a client-agency relationship, and you‘ll have a better chance of setting everyone up for success. And even if yours is an established client-agency relationship, make it a priority to renew your vows and make a fresh start.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is evidence in our research that corporations that have made a new start with their agency roster and have embarked on a campaign to persuade the global agency community that they do value ideas and that they want to work collaboratively did better than we might have expected them to do a few years ago. I don’t have the benchmarks to prove my case, but Mars performed significantly better than one might have expected, and made it into our "desirability" top ten. It’s interesting to note that two months after we conducted our survey, Mars became the Cannes Lions 2012 Advertiser of the Year.

The gap between Mars and our top six is still a large one (and even Pepsi, which ranked seventh, was a long way behind Coca-Cola in sixth place)—but if Mars continues to demonstrate to their agency partners that they value ideas and that they want to work collaboratively, I have no doubt that we’ll see them climb up our rankings when we repeat the survey next year. As for the marketers at the bottom of the list, we’ll just have to wait and see whether they care about their reputations in the agency world—and whether they’re capable of embracing the kind of cultural change that will make them more attractive to agency talent.

A note about the survey: The Global Brand Owner Reputation Survey was commissioned by The Talent Business and conducted by independent research company, Bonamy Finch. A quantitative study involving an anonymous on line questionnaire allowed creative agency leaders around the world to identify what attributes make a brand owner more attractive as a client, and respondents graded twenty-seven global brand owners against those attributes. Although anonymous, respondents identified their location in the world and their job function, to ensure the survey delivered a representative sample. Only senior executives were targeted and there were 397 respondents.

Gary Stolkin is Global Chairman and CEO of The Talent Business.

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6 Comments

  • Ad-itude

    Advertising is the only business where we publish our mistakes. Doctors bury theirs. Ours are out there for the world to see.  And many times, those mistakes are out there because that's exactly what the client wanted and the agency made it happen for them. It's nice to think we all stand for great creative, but when truly doing so might mean coming back to the agency to let a half dozen people know they no longer have jobs because someone finally took a stand. Reality is, not every client can or will be a great client just as every creative can't or won't be a rising star. It's what we strive for. But sometimes, we just help the account people and clients kill our babies before we see if they can make i to the other side of the freeway.

  • NBD HEALTH

    If only relationships with ad agencies were so simple.  Ideally you work in partnership with an agency but the politics are brutal getting the results. Remember everyone is a creative director!

    As well, the bigger the ad shop the greater the BS. I have lived through too many multi-national ad shops that at times flared moments of "Mad Men" that drove me mad!

    Another consideration in this study should be the size or structure of the ad shop.  Can you get a true intimate ralationship established between the client and the ad shop?  Perhaps soft point but can make a huge difference in output.

  • Roy Armale

    When we talk to clients that land in the lower ranks about the situation, the first question they ask is "What difference does it make?" I know that winning advertiser of the year is great, I also know that more creative ads generate more business. But the evidence in the first case is skewed (awards by advertisers for advertisers) and in the second can be circumstantial. Adding some performance metric linked to sales that shows causality between desirability for creatives, quality of creative work, and business performance would show a more convincing case. Then we could demonstrate the benefit of attracting good talent and maybe create some change.

  • Cat Hepler

    Any insight that can be shared on male versus female ratio of those included int he study? May have some bearing on brands in the lower echelons.

  • Cat

    I disagree. As a female creative, I have no desire to work for those bottom companies regardless of weather I actually like their products. It's the lack of creative freedom that would make me steer clear.

  • Tim Geoghegan

    I think it has much less to do with the sex (or orientation) of the person. Take L'Oreal. I'm a guy and wouldn't mind working on their products. Unfortunately, nothing they do in communications in the past (as far as I've seen) is breakthrough or creatively stimulating. It's image-driven drivel. Sure, it sells a bit of product. But so does repetition. Neither are appealing to those who believe creative and disruptive thinking is more effective for business, which it is and has been proven.